At the peak of the Gold Rush, miners toiled endless hours with pans and pickaxes in search of that elusive glistening treasure. Just think how much more could have been found, and how much easier it would have been, if the miners had use of the modern day metal detector. For Saline County metal detecting enthusiast Brandon Sutton, that mid to low “gold” tone from his Garrett AT PRO metal detector is an exhilarating sound indeed.
Brandon’s interest in metal detecting stemmed from his love of history and hearing the “old stories” of days gone by. “My passion for history started when I was a kid. My great-grandfather told me the tale of a rock marked by a snake carving hidden in the depths of the Ouachita Mountains. It was believed that early Spanish explorers had buried a cache of gold near that landmark. For years, my family tried to find the gold, with no luck. I haven’t been able to find that spot since, but that experience sparked something inside of me that became my passion: to search for buried treasure.”
One of Brandon’s most prized finds is a Memphis & Ohio Railroad baggage tag that reads: PARIS 43 MEM&O.R.R. “I found it where Union soldiers camped the night following the Civil War battle of Jenkins Ferry. The soldier who lost it most likely took a train to Paris, Tennessee, before joining the Union Army.” Brandon’s most valuable find, monetarily speaking, is an early 1900’s sterling silver monogrammed match case. “In its condition, it’s worth around $200.00. I found it at the house built by William Bennett, owner of the old Benton Brick and Pottery Company and Benton’s mayor during that same era.”
Brandon’s wife Holly, and their 11 year old daughter, Molly, enjoy participating in the hunt, and are especially drawn to the stories behind the items discovered. “Favorite pieces are those that once belonged to someone else – toys, watches, pouches. Holly says she can create a scene in her mind of it being used by the past owner.”
Once such item was found at the former site of Webb’s House of Flowers on North East Street. “I found a set of old keys with a rusting World War II dog tag attached with the name J.F. TUCKER - U.S.N.R. inscribed in the metal. Holly and I were told that the location was a historical home first owned by Lee and Christine Tucker who had two sons: Wimp “Lee” Tucker and James Fitzhugh Tucker. I tracked down James’ brother, Lee; we spoke and agreed to meet the next day.”
Brandon and Mr. Tucker sat for a while and talked about Jim’s military history and how the two had something in common in their brothers. “I couldn’t help but get choked up as he spoke of his brother, who passed away in 2010. It brought instant memories of my own big brother Paul who, just like Jim, was in the Navy. Paul died in a car accident on Thanksgiving Day in 1993 when he was just 18 years old.”
That created an instant bond between Brandon and Mr. Tucker. “Years after losing Paul, there was a time in my life when I was dependent on prescription pain killers for attempted reality escapes. I became buried in my own dark hole. Now I spend quiet hours detecting, giving me alone time to stay connected with God, who always unearths me and wipes me clean again.”
Mr. Tucker told Brandon he remembered Jim losing that key ring and searching frantically for it, but he never saw it again. As it turns out, Jim Tucker had a very distinguished military career aboard the U.S.S. Chauncey, and served in many major World War II Naval battles including Iwo Jima. Jim was awarded a Bronze Star of Valor for shooting down a Korean kamikaze airplane just seconds before it was able to strike his targeted ship, saving the lives of every single person on board.
Brandon learned that day that J.F. TUCKER was not just an engraving on an old piece of dirty metal; Jim was a true American hero and Brandon found a treasured piece of his life. “I find my joy in the searching, and sometimes I’m blessed with a much bigger treasure than I could have ever expected.”